"Telling someone with depression to 'look on the bright side,' to 'appreciate the little things,' or worse, to 'live in the moment,' just doesn't work. There are no moments; there is only existence," Gail Bellissimo told an audience at CAMH's 2nd Annual Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute Symposium.
Gail has become a compelling public speaker, social media advocate and a consistent voice supporting the value of mental health research, which has been traditionally underfunded. She strives to empower people to seek help or other treatment options they didn't know existed, and promotes clinical research to enhance care and recovery.
It wasn't a role she would have foreseen. Gail described herself as "self-stigmatizing," and for years kept her depression a secret from everyone except her husband and four sons.
Like many patients treated for depression, she had tried a stream of different medications in combination with psychotherapy, but without significant success – that is, until she received repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation or rTMS as part of a CAMH research study led by the Temerty Centre for Therapeutic Brain Intervention. Simply put, rTMS uses magnetic pulses rather than electricity to stimulate targeted areas of the brain. Gail responded well.
After the first two weeks of treatment, she said: "I felt alive."
To meet Gail today, you see a woman determined to break down stigma. She is a powerful advocate for strengthening the voice of patient engagement in improving health care, and works to increase awareness of research and access to clinical trials. She speaks to media, at CAMH events and at conferences sponsored by the Council of Academic Hospitals of Ontario, the Ontario Hospital Association, as well as Hoffmann-La Roche's Canadian Experience Exchange for Patient Organizations. Gail plays an important role in helping demystify clinical research for patients.
She began volunteering in 2015 with CAMH Research Services, working with a team to enhance CAMH's online research recruiting services. She spends a great deal of time reviewing research websites, analyzing best practices and patient-centred care models and continues to provide feedback as the CAMH site is developed.
Gail is also actively engaged online, tweeting on language use, clinical research, patient engagement and has begun writing, with her first blog for the Council of Academic Hospitals of Ontario, Patients + Research voice.
"We need to expand the decision-making process and integrate – into every patient's health care treatment plan or program – the right to obtain information about, and the option to participate in, clinical trials research," she says. "Every person deserves access to every type of treatment or therapy that could restore their health and improve their quality of life."